PhD Progress & Thoughts

How To Study [Undergraduate Guide]

Are YOU a student who is doing an undergraduate-level or college-level course?

Then you may find this blog post handy! I write this from the perspective of someone who did not know how to study until I was about 17 – and this had a huge impact on my grades. Once I ‘figured it out’ for myself, I suddenly found university a lot easier to handle.

This is my how-to guide for information retention, revision, and assessment success!

Step 1 – Read the Unit Outline and/or find Course Content Information

It’s super-hard to do in high school, which is why I wasn’t able to improve my grades until university. Finding out exactly what topics you’re meant to cover makes studying much easier. Thankfully Universities make these outlines available to students, and you can even access outlines from previous years if your lecturer/tutor is a bit slow uploading the outline to whatever program you’re asked to use online for classwork.

The Unit outline should also cover due dates for assignments and, if your tutor/lecturer is really organised, the topics and required content/length of future assessments. It’s worth writing it down in a diary/planner so you can keep on top of your workload.
The Unit outline also covers what topic your class will address each week. This will help you structure your study, and even allow you to read ahead if you have the time and/or energy.

Step 2 – For the first time, skim through your chapters in manageable doses

Take a quick look at your textbook/required readings/lecture slides for the week before doing anything with them. What’s the layout? What type of information are you asked to learn? (Dates? Names? Facts?) Giving your material a brief look-over will help you to feel familiar with the chapters and allow you to focus on the information when you go over it again a second time.

After skimming, begin your reading. Ideally, you should be reading your chapters BEFORE the class/lecture, and on average each class should not take more than two hours to prepare for. This includes writing out the notes and re-reading passages if you accidentally missed something. For this purpose I generally recommend you sequester some time every day for ‘university work’ – as many colleges/universities require you to take multiple classes at a time, and the weekend can leave you too tired to do proper reading (after work, a party, or a family event).
– I kept 2 hours free every Saturday morning, and 2 hours every evening after dinner, to do study and/or assessment work. I didn’t always use all of that time, thankfully due to my course being quite manageable in smaller time frames. However when life became a bit hectic that time was very appreciated.

Step 3 – Find a mode of recording your study that suits your learning style

Do you have a disability that impacts your ability to write? Consider audio-recording your notes to play back later! Do you process things better visually? Find a way to layout your notes in a striking template. Use different coloured pens, highlighters, stickers, post-it-notes and pens of different thicknesses. There are also plenty of free note-templates on the internet for every type of learner and student.

Step 4 – Record your notes clearly, precisely, and in accordance with what you’re meant to be learning

Ideally you want your notes to be easily accessible, and sorted by week/topic so you can go back over them during exam season.

You should only be writing information in bullet-point form to jog your memory on key concepts and lessons for later recall. Diagrams and charts are also very useful for laying out information in a clear and easily memorable layout. You don’t want to be memorising paragraphs of text later down the track, so don’t waste your time recording them unless it’s vital.

Finally, avoid deviating from the topic. Random side-notes might be fun, but if it detracts from what you’re meant to be learning it’s not helpful. Refer to the course outline for guidance if you’re stuck on what will be important to record. (The lecturer usually gives tips during lectures as well).

Step 5 – Use multiple encoding theory

In short, multiple encoding theory is the idea that when you use different modes of learning, you can remember the information better later on.

For myself, I utilise multiple encoding theory by hand-writing notes when I read the textbook chapters, listening to the lectures, and chatting with other students about class content (Reading, writing, listening and speaking). This way I find it easy to remember what I need to know during exams, as I’ve approached the information multiple times in multiple formats.

Step 6 – Revise!

By exam time, you shouldn’t be learning huge amounts of new information. The week of/the week before exams is when you should be revisiting your notes and refreshing your knowledge so that you’re confident in remembering them.

Personally, I did this by scrap-booking my notes. I cut and pasted my hand-written notes into a scrapbook and used pens to link relevant topics by theme and timelines. Adding stickers and images made my notes striking to read, and thus I recalled them very clearly. It was a fun activity for me to do, and didn’t feel like studying. Yet, when I recall the fact that I had to re-read my notes, and add more information based on my memory in order to make the scrapbook cohesive to a new reader, I realised that the scrap-booking activity was a form of study!

Good luck, and happy learning!

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